The Growing Fog of The Internet of Things


I first published this on my tech marketing consultancy site in January of 2015. And I think I just needed to post it to get me motivated to start writing again on my portfolio site. Interestingly enough, little seems to have changed in this space in the past 3 years. Which, as we know, is like Dog Years in the tech space. I wonder how relevant this will be in 2021?

These days you can’t open a newsletter, see a conference or read a blog without running into that next big thing, that next big trend – The Internet of Things.

And for good reason as everyone is saying this will be the Biggest. Market. Ever. With gazillions of dollars to be made.

As all this unfolds I want technology marketers to show some imagination and courage as we talk to consumers.

I’m all for differentiation and get the importance of standing out. But attempting to do it with small, confusing nuances of language won’t cut it.

Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

A brand I think is doing a great job is Lowe’s. Yes, Lowe’s. Their Iris offering is by far the easiest to understand. It’s called a “home management system” which is easier to relate to than the more commonly used “home automation.” Marketing has been scrubbed of any technical jargon. The kits are well named too: Safe & Secure, Comfort & Control and Smart Kit. Pretty intuitive.

Home Depot has their oddly named Wink offering. Regrettably they didn’t take Lowe’s lead in keeping the language simple. I think sales will reflect it. Wink has a Relay Smart Home Controller also referred to as the Command Center. It works with the Wink Connected Home Hub. It’s included with the Wink Home Automation First Safety Bundle and Wink Home Automation Home Control Bundle. That’s a lot of letters to fit on an endcap.

Nest, the first big name in the industry, is also a little fuzzy. Terms like “Next Generation Thermostat” and “Nest Learning Thermostat’ are used next to each other. Homes become “more aware” with features called Auto Away, Leaf, Airwave and Nightly Promise. Not bad, but they are a small step down from clarity. Curiously the website has a section called Works With Nest that takes a very sharp turn from anything remotely clear to the average person. It has a series of videos with very smart people with thick European accents using phrases like “a rich contextual set of information.” Great for a tech audience but should be on a developer portal.

Naturally ISPs aren’t going to sit on the sidelines. Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable have all put together offerings. Naturally because hey, we already have the tap-to-home in place anyway so why not?

Comcast offers xfinity Home – a Total Home Security and Automation Solution (I was waiting to see when that was going to show up.) This program uses the Touchscreen Controller, EcoSaver and Powerline Device. The packages are available in the Secure 300, Secure 350 and Control 150. Clear, right?

AT&T has Digital Life – Personalized Home Security and Automation. In their rush to get this out they’re using mixed language that clearly came straight from the product group. For example the Touchscreen Door Lock is palm touch activated, but you need a pin code. What, what? Packages include Smart Security, Door Package and Video Camera Package.

Time Warner Cable is probably the worst offender. Intelligent Home is available in the Security Package, Security & Video View Package, Security & Energy Package, Security Video View & Energy Package and a bonus Upgrade Package. This system needs no less than six videos to explain how it all works together plus an infographic. Now, if I have the Touchscreen (a device that’s included) why do I need the portal when an app might work? Oh, it comes with an app too. Huh?

Apple is taking a back seat on all this and perhaps wisely. But they’re busy. HomeKit will bring you The Connected Home and is in the works with a dedicated developer program, SDKs, etc. Apple has shown it’s unparalleled with hardware but its software can be hit-or-miss. It will be interesting to see how they show up.

And there’s Samsung. Their Smart Home or Home Solution or Digital Life, depending on what you’re reading, has a pretty lofty goal: “Provide secure and convenient living whenever and wherever with state-of-the-art ubiquitous technologies for smart homes.” And boy do they mean it. No less than five bullet points support this hot mess of a statement:

  • Healthy living that further protects your health year round
  • Convenient living allowing for greater control anytime anywhere
  • Secure living that guarantees security and happiness
  • Economic living allowing you to save money and energy Smart living by connecting your home to your mobile devices

Luckily, Samsung has acquired the much-better positioned SmartThings so hopefully their simple, straightforward approach wont’ get swallowed by whatever group came up with those gems.

You see what’s happening. Players in this space are trying to own it with their own, slightly different way of saying the exact same thing.

It’s dangerous. Not only will this confuse consumers when they attempt to compare one provider with another, but the certain result will be the creation of a brand fog where people won’t discern one offering from another.

This has happened before. Just look at the consumer banking industry. They all sound the same now, which has reduced their value proposition to parity. At that point the only place you can go is differentiate on price. A losing game unless that is your differentiator. Or unless you’re someone like Ally or ING and come at the industry from a completely different perspective.

The greater danger but larger opportunity is that it leaves a huge gap for someone to come in with a truly unique brand positioning. Not a slightly different way of describing devices and bundles, but a truly disruptive way to talk to people about the IoT.

Someone is going to drop on the map, stuff everyone else into a tight little box and become a household name.

The current players are making it too easy.